Giving gifts that matter

Maybe it’s my age and stage of life, or maybe it’s my nature, but I’m a strong believer in giving gifts that matter… to the recipient and to the giver.

When an acquaintance stood up at a meeting last week and announced there were “so many” days until Christmas, I heard the collective room moan. That’s not a good sign; that’s a pressure sign, from my point of view.

It got me to thinking about gifts that have mattered over the years, and there are two that come to mind, though I’ve been on the receiving end of wonderful, wonderful gifts.

The first was given during my extreme poverty days during university when I lived on liver and potatoes, held down a half time job, balanced a student newspaper job with an honorarium, and figured out how to give gifts to people I cared about during a very meaningful Christmas in my passage from youth to adulthood.

One of my classmates was an equally poor student whose name is Bert. Bert was completely funding his own education and holding down a schedule similar to my own. And Bert was on his own in life, his parents having passed away during his teen years. I let myself into his room in a house full of students and scrounged for every sock he owned. I took them back to my apartment and carefully darned every hole in every sock, pairing them up, wrapping them in tissue and giving them to him on Christmas Day.

When Bert reflects on the meaning of Christmas, he always goes back to those socks and how much that gift meant to him.

Bert went on to become one of the country’s respected automotive journalists, and it was to him I turned later in life when I wanted to “gift” my own son, in his late teens, with something meaningful at Christmas.

With Bert’s help, we gave him a skid school.

Skid school?

Well, he was about 17, had been driving for a year and a half, and as a young man with sharp reflexes, great eyesight, and even greater courage, he felt reasonably invincible on the road. In my car. So, we registered him for the Pontiac Skid School (located in Shannonville, Ontario) and chose the one-day session for sometime in mid-summer.

We made up a gift certificate and the Skid School forwarded a brochure to go with our gift.

Collecting the gift occurred six months later when I dropped our young man off at the speedway. He spent the day in every conceivable car that Pontiac builds, from automatic to standard transmission, from 6 cylinder front wheel sedans to 8 cylinder rear wheel Trans-Ams. He learned how to race down dry pavement, how to approach the area which had been soaked and filled with water, how to go into and come out of a skid. He learned control.

I left him for eight hours while he took the classroom theory and then with a group of other drivers headed out to the practical “field” work on the race track. He pointed out afterward that because he was one of the few young people who could drive both standard and automatic transmissions, he got the broadest range of experience. He also said he was glad he had a year of driving behind him before taking this day’s training. The young people who were just recently licenced didn’t have the courage or the driving background to really benefit from the day.

In those days I had a pretty powerful Grand Am and the ride home from Belleville to Barrie was pretty memorable with my new, young, confident driver at the wheel!

But his remarks at the end of the day told me this was one of the best gifts we could ever have given… “I don’t know why I ever thought I had control of a car!”